First Steps, Brancaster by Malcolm Guite


This is the day to leave the dark behind you
Take the adventure, step beyond the hearth,
Shake off at last the shackles that confined you,
And find the courage for the forward path.
You yearned for freedom through the long night watches,

The day has come and you are free to choose,
Now is your time and season.
Companioned still by your familiar crutches,
And leaning on the props you hope to lose,
You step outside and widen your horizon.

After the dimly burning wick of winter
That seemed to dull and darken everything
The April sun shines clear beyond your shelter
And clean as sight itself. The reed-birds sing,
As heaven reaches down to touch the earth
And circle her, revealing everywhere
A lovely, longed-for blue.
Breathe deep and be renewed by every breath,
Kinned to the keen east wind and cleansing air,
As though the blue itself were blowing through you.

You keep the coastal path where edge meets edge,
The sea and salt marsh touching in North Norfolk,
Reed cutters cuttings, patterned in the sedge,
Open and ease the way that you will walk,
Unbroken reeds still wave their feathered fronds
Through which you glimpse the long line of the sea
And hear its healing voice.
Tentative steps begin to break your bonds,
You push on through the pain that sets you free,
Towards the day when broken bones rejoice

Malcolm Guite reads today’s poem

Today’s poem is an intimate and vulnerable account of darkness yielding to light.  The broken world in which we live breaks us as well, yet as Hemingway has it in A Farewell to Arms “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”   Though we inhabit a planet marred by sin, it is not bereft of the Word wherewith it was created.  As Malcom Guite has it “God transcends nature, which is not God himself but is His language.”

Within each of us there is an echo of Eden, that masterpiece of God we were purposed to tend. We recognize, as scripture declares in the first chapter of Romans that “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”  In The Word in the Wilderness Malcolm Guite writes:

The very fact that we find a constant and seemingly natural correspondence between the outer and inner may itself be a clue to the nature of the universe and our role in it. It may not be simply that we project, but that we, ourselves a part of nature, are finely attuned to and can give a conscious ‘inward’ expression to its outer meanings.

Has nature ever contributed to your healing?

Psalm 51

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David When Nathan the Prophet Went to Him, After He Had Gone in to Bathsheba.

1Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.

2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.

3For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me.

4Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.

5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

6Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice.

9Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities.

10Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

12Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

13Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You.

14Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.

15O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.

16For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.

17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.

18Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem.

19Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith


51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.
ART: Christ Healing the Lame Man
Jacopo Bassano
Date: 1571

Still, Let Me Love


Lord Byron

’TIS time this heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

1 John 4:7–21

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

Rick WilcoxHad she lived to an old age, Marilyn Monroe would be in her nineties.  That’s hard to imagine.  She shares a strange kinship with Lord Byron (born on this day in 1788) for many reasons, among which is the fact that each died at the young age of 36.  Like Marilyn, his mesmerizing face, riotous living, many love affairs, and tragic death has made him a romantic, fascinating figure. His mystique was so iconic that even today, an alluringly dark, mysterious, and moody man is said to be Byronic. 

Lord Byron did not take his own life, but he left us with a poem he wrote on his thirty-sixth birthday just a few weeks before he died.  In it he says that since he can no longer rouse the hearts of others, he has nothing left but to seek a “soldier’s grave” in the “land of honourable death.”   Like Hemingway, he had traveled to a foreign country to fight a war which wasn’t his own.

The perspective of time has provided fuller context.  Both Marilyn Monroe and Lord Byron are now understood to have possessed an introspective inner life that was eclipsed by their charisma and lifestyle. Each expressed an inner longing to be loved and to love unconditionally, absent the trappings of their fame and allure.

No measure of fame can substitute for the immeasurable love of God.  The human heart intuitively longs to give and receive a love based on the priceless worth of the soul which can only be realized in the union of the creation and his Creator.

We chase hard after self esteem when self worth is what we already possess.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.


D I G  D E E P E R


Lord Byron

George Gordon was born on Jan. 22, 1788, in London. His great-uncle, from whom he inherited his title, was known as “wicked” Lord Byron; and his father, an army officer, was called “mad Jack.” Born with an abnormally formed foot, he was sensitive about his appearance all his life. When he was 3 years old his father died, leaving the boy and his mother nearly penniless.

Byron succeeded to the title of baron when he was 10. The honor brought with it a half-ruined estate, Newstead Abbey, and a moderate income. At 17 he entered Cambridge University. He read much literature but cared little for other subjects. Determined to overcome his physical disability, Byron became a good rider, swimmer, boxer, and marksman.

His first collection of poetry, published when he was 19, was a volume called Hours of Idleness. It was attacked by the Edinburgh Review.Byron responded with a satire entitled English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. His travels in Europe and the Middle East inspired his first long poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. The first two sections were published in 1812, and he became famous almost overnight. Women sought him out, and young men copied his fashion style of wearing an open collar and flowing cravat.

In 1815 he married Anne Milbanke. They had one daughter but soon separated. The public reacted unfavorably to Byron’s often scandalous conduct, and in a fit of temper he left England for Italy. There he wrote additional cantos for Childe Harold; Manfred, a verse play; and Don Juan, a half-romantic, half-humorous poetic version of the old Spanish story. Byron became interested in Greece’s struggle to free itself from Turkish rule, and he went to Greece to help organize the revolt. He died of a fever at Missolonghi (now Mesolongion) on April 19, 1824.


’TIS time this heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!

The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze—
A funeral pile.

The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love, I cannot share,
But wear the chain.

But ’tis not thus—and ’tis not here—
Such thoughts should shake my soul, nor now,
Where glory decks the hero’s bier,
Or binds his brow.

The sword, the banner, and the field,
Glory and Greece, around me see!
The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
Was not more free.

Awake! (not Greece—she is awake!)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
And then strike home!

Tread those reviving passions down,
Unworthy manhood!—unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
Of beauty be.

If thou regret’st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here:—up to the field, and give
Away thy breath!

Seek out—less often sought than found—
A soldier’s grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.

AT MISSOLONGHI, January 22, 1824.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

“She was not the usual movie idol.” So said Carl Sandburg of the American actress who combined glamour with wholesomeness, sex appeal with innocence, and vulnerability with determination to create a legend summed up in a single word:Marilyn.

Norma Jeane (sometimes spelled Jean) Mortenson was born on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles, California. During her career she used the name Norma Jean Baker and, finally, Marilyn Monroe. She spent her youth in foster homes and orphanages. Finally a job as a photographer’s model led to a movie career. Her film debut was in Scudda-Hoo! Scudda-Hay! in 1948, but her career blossomed in the 1950s, beginning with bit parts in The Asphalt Jungle (1950), All About Eve (1950), and a walk-on appearance in O. Henry’s Full House (1952). Her gift for comedy led to her success in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and The Seven Year Itch (1955). Part of her humor lay in the idea that her gorgeous, blonde character did not seem to understand why people thought she was beautiful or funny.

Monroe’s on-screen and offscreen lives were scrutinized by a press and public fascinated by celebrities. Her marriages to baseball star Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller were widely publicized. She was sensitive to this lack of privacy but was determined to improve her acting skill. She studied with the famous acting coach Lee Strasberg in New York City and returned to Hollywood to star in more complex films, including Bus Stop (1956), The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), Some Like It Hot (1959), and The Misfits (1961).

Monroe’s career was cut short when she died in Los Angeles from an overdose of sleeping pills on August 5, 1962. Her sudden death seemed only to enhance the mystique surrounding her image.


George Gordon Lord Byron, “On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year,” in The Harvard Classics 40–42: Complete English Poetry, Chaucer to Whitman, ed. Charles W. Eliot (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1910), 836–837.

“Byron, Lord,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).
Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Jackson, Michael. “LORD BYRON.” Theology 77, no. 653 (1974): 578–582.

William Sailer et al., Religious and Theological Abstracts (Myerstown, PA: Religious and Theological Abstracts, 2012).

Nissley, Tom. A Reader’s Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year (Kindle Locations 667-672). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Zen Is Not Enough


Thomas à Kempis

He who learns to live the interior life and to take little account of outward things, does not seek special places or times to perform devout exercises. A spiritual man quickly recollects himself because he has never wasted his attention upon externals. No outside work, no business that cannot wait stands in his way. He adjusts himself to things as they happen. He whose disposition is well ordered cares nothing about the strange, perverse behavior of others, for a man is upset and distracted only in proportion as he engrosses himself in externals.

Ernest Hemingway defined courage as grace under pressure, but I don’t think that goes far enough. It’s insufficient to achieve a zen-like tranquility of inner equilibrium in the midst of outer chaos. For that a lobotomy will do just fine. Being able to stay calm only gets you so far.

The church celebrates the Confession of St Peter on this day, January 18th as a remembrance of Peter’s bold statement to Jesus “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15).  It’s important to remember that much was still ahead of Peter.  It was his fear that later caused him deny Christ, his remorse that consumed him afterwards, but it was his love for Jesus that led him to a life of bold leadership, ultimately resulting in his martyrdom.

True serenity is achieved by living in unobstructed communion with God, and that is the essence of a spirit filled life.  Jesus wasn’t the only one who walked on water. Peter did it too as long as his focus was on Christ, but when he was distracted by the storm he began to sink. What a powerful lesson to him and to us.


IMG_0181Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.  Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.  But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” he said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?


Dig Deeper

Art: The Crucifixion of Saint Peter by Caravaggio, 1601

Painted for the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. Across the chapel is a second Caravaggio work depicting the Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus (1601). On the altar between the two is an Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Annibale Carracci.

The painting depicts the martyrdom of St. Peter by crucifixion—Peter asked that his cross be inverted so as not to imitate his God, Jesus Christ, hence he is depicted upside down. The large canvas shows Ancient Romans, their faces shielded, struggling to erect the cross of the elderly but muscular apostle. Peter is heavier than his aged body would suggest, and his lifting requires the efforts of three men, as if the crime they perpetrate already weighs on them.

Literature and Liturgy: Saint Peter

Simon Peter is one of Jesus’ first disciples and later becomes the spokesman of the Twelve. Although Jesus gives Simon the name “Peter” (“rock”; Πέτρος, Petros; in Matt 16:18; Mark 3:16; Κηϕᾶς, Kēphas; in John 1:42), his ability to live up to it is often in doubt in the Gospels. Peter’s rebuke of the Lord (Matt 16:22–23; Mark 8:32–33), his falling asleep in the garden (Matt 26:40; Mark 14:37), his attack on Malchus (Mark 14:47; John 18:10–11), and his denial of Jesus (Matt 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:55–61; John 18:15–27) all support this perception. However, Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter in John 21:15–17 (“Do you love Me … feed My sheep”) communicates His confidence in and selection of him as the head of the early church. Luke demonstrates this in the book of Acts, which portrays Peter as a bold proclaimer of the gospel (Acts 2:14–41; 3:12–26; 4:8–21), a miracle worker (Acts 3:1–11; 9:32–35, 38–42), an authoritative figure in the early church (Acts 1:15–26; 5:3–10; 8:14–17; 15:7–11), the first missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1–45), and a missionary to the Jews outside of Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). Ultimately, Peter demonstrates his total devotion as a follower of Jesus when he dies a martyr’s death in Rome (1 Clement 5:4).

Peter in Extrabiblical Writings

Beyond the New Testament, several extrabiblical writings mention Peter. For instance, First Clement recounts Peter’s martyrdom in Rome (see Bauckham, “The Martyrdom of Peter,” 549–95). First Clement was written to the Corinthians around the end of the first century AD by Clement, the bishop in Rome. Clement states that Peter endured hardship and died the glorious death of a martyr (5:4). The early church historian Eusebius confirms Clement’s statement, adding the detail that Peter was crucified upside-down; Eusebius claims that the church father Origen was the first to record this detail, in a now lost fragment of Origen’s Commentary on Genesis (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.1.2).

Peter also appears as a main character in several noncanonical texts, including the Acts of Peter and the Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles.


Bauckham, Richard. “The Martyrdom of Peter in Early Christian Literature.” Pages 539–95 in ANRW II.26.1. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1992.
Blaine, Bradford. Peter in the Gospel of John: The Making of and Authentic Disciple. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.
Bockmuehl, Markus. The Remembered Peter. Tübingen: Mohr, 2010.
Caddidy, Richard. Four Times Peter: Portrayals of Peter in the Four Gospels and at Philippi. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2007.
Cullmann, Oscar. Peter: Disciple—Apostle—Martyr. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1953.
Ehrman, Bart. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Grant, Michael. Saint Peter: A Biography. New York: Scribner, 1956.
Hengel, Martin. Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010.
Lapham, F. Peter: The Myth, the Man and the Writings. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003.
Perkins, Pheme. Peter: Apostle for the Whole Church. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.
Smith, Terence. Petrine Controversies in Early Christianity. Tübingen: Mohr, 1985.
Wiarda, Timothy. Peter in the Gospels. Tübingen: Mohr, 2000.

Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck


“I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation- a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every states I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”

Rick WilcoxWhen my wife and I visited the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, I was surprised by what turned out to be my favorite item. I’ve been a Steinbeck fan since I was introduced to him by way of The Pearl in seventh grade English. No other writer commands his sense of place and his eye for landscape in context of character is matchless. I read his masterpiece East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath a few summers ago. The museum memorabilia of these works and other favorites like The Red Pony certainly delighted me, but my heart was captured by an old GMC pickup with a large white camper on back.

Travels with Charley is one of those books I’ve always sort of known about but never truly considered. I knew he wrote it at the end of his career, and that was about it. Seeing the truck, which he named Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse, made me dig in and boy am I glad I did. The book is about a 3 month, 10,000 mile road trip of America Steinbeck made with his French Poodle Charley.

In 1960 the world was exploding and Steinbeck was feeling lost. He was 58 years old and his health was failing. His masterworks were behind him and (what turned out to be) his final novel, The Winter of Our Discontent was finished. In letters to friends Steinbeck stated that he wrote Winter to address the moral degeneration of American culture. This of course was not a new theme for him and his social activism often had him on defense during the red paranoia of the McCarthy era.

John Steinbeck’s son Thom later said the real reason for the trip was that his dad thought he was dying and wanted to see the country one last time. I think that’s a disservice to the author. The fact is, Steinbeck lived almost another decade and remained active in using his celebrity to influence social cause. The book itself is clearly a blend of nonfiction travelogue and contrived conversations with people encountered along the way. It gives me no pause that some of them may be composites to give the author a vehicle to air out his story.

Standing back over fifty years later, it’s easy for me to see his agenda. Travels with Charley is a wake-up call to America. Steinbeck mined the heart of our country in search of its character and ultimately discovered more about himself than us. He realized near the end of the trip that his experience was entirely subjective and that he only really found what he brought to it. To his credit, the last years of his life found him actively engaged with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson as well as Martin Luther King Junior, among others.

He was out there still.

A few months after Steinbeck’s trip, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide. When Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize several months later, he called his friend William Faulkner (a previous winner) for a little advice about what to say. Faulkner said he couldn’t offer much help because “I was drunk at the time”. In just a matter of weeks Faulkner was dead too – largely from drinking himself to death as F. Scott Fitzgerald did a decade earlier.

In a private journal entry Steinbeck complained about the tendency – specifically here, Faulkner – for famous writers to lose touch with people.

He wrote

“A letter today enclosed an interview with Bill Faulkner which turns my stomach. When those old writing boys get to talking about The Artist, meaning themselves, I want to leave the profession. I don’t know whether the Nobel Prize does it or not, but if it does, thank God I have not been so honored. They really get to living up to themselves, wrapped and shellacked. Apparently they can’t have any human intercourse again.”

The self destructiveness of his contemporaries isn’t easily summarized, but a large measure must be placed on their brooding, angst-riddled and egotistical introspection. Steinbeck stands apart because he found the balance. He understood that yes, wisdom is gained only by the clear eyed examination of one’s heart, but he also knew that none of it mattered if it didn’t benefit other people – specifically, the common man.

To know Steinbeck is to know a man driving Rocinante down the highway with his shirt sleeves rolled up, one arm out the window, engaging the world.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.





Suicide Is Never Right

Rick WilcoxKurt Cobain, who ended his own life at 27 years of age once wrote in his journal “I really haven’t had that exciting of a life. There are a lot of things I wish I would have done, instead of just sitting around and complaining about having a boring life.”

Like Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye, Cobain was aware of his potential but anguished by the despair of a self-oriented worldview.  Unfortunately,  as with many others, death by his own hand became his lasting commentary on his life.

Suicide has been unduly ennobled by literature including historically revisionistic interpretations of the deaths of Socrates, Seneca, Cleopatra, Van Gogh, Virginia Wolfe, Silvia Plath and Ernest Hemingway.  Albert Camus called it the “last great work of art.”  The basis for this position is the premise that individual accountability accrues only to oneself.

In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger wrote:

The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.

Suicide violates the imago Dei, the image of God with which we are created, and that is simply idolatry.  The deeply satisfying sense of fulfillment we seek as human beings is completely realized when we love God with all of our hearts and likewise love our neighbor as ourselves.



Matthew 22:34-40

But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

D I G  D E E P E R


Rick Wilcox

Suicide has been unduly ennobled by literature including historically revisionistic interpretations of the deaths of Socrates, Seneca, Cleopatra, Van Gogh, Virginia Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway.  Albert Camus called it the “last great work of art.”  The basis for this position is an axiology rooted in humanism, and its premise that individual accountability for one’s body accrues only to oneself.  To the humanist, life is individually arbitrary, and therein lies the fundamental basis for a Christian’s opposition to suicide.  The Christian worldview is that suicide fundamentally violates the imago Dei and is, at its core idolatry in that all arguments, however compelling in their pathos ultimately rest on tenets only validated by the good of the individual rather than the glory of God.

As suicide is not expressly forbidden by Scripture, this paper will examine Biblical occurrences where suicide was either committed or considered.  This selection will be representative rather than exhaustive but the exegesis will establish hermeneutic consistency toward general application.  The brevity of this paper will only afford general consideration of the ethical differentiations of the sub-topics of physician assisted suicide, termination of life support, euthanasia, and mental competence but each will be examined for moral relevance to this paper’s fundamental premise. This examination will conclude that the Bible teaches that suicide is an affront to God as it devalues His image in the created person, Christ’s sacrificial death for the lost person and the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of the redeemed person.

The Image of God

Man was created in God’s image, according to His likeness (Gen 1:26).  Nothing else in creation was afforded that unspeakable honor.  The etymology of the imago Dei points to both the concrete and the abstract, and equates “image” and “likeness” as interchangeable. Rather than possessing a list of godly attributes, man’s preeminence in creation reflects his immortal essence.  As the bearer of such, his worth is understood by Scripture to compel our loving God to the point of sacrificing His Son for our redemption (John 3:16).  Any consideration of man’s moral accountability must be based on a foundation of this stewardship in worship and humility.

In her book Total Truth Nancy Pearcey pointed out that the Bible does not begin with the Fall but rather Creation, highlighting man’s value and dignity as God’s image bearer, tasked with functioning as His representative on earth.  God’s acknowledgement of man’s imparted value was reflected by His ordination of capital punishment for murder on the basis of a violation of the imago Dei (Gen 9:6).  Murdering one’s self is murder nonetheless.

In order to understand, at least inasmuch as we can, the significance of the imago Dei in man, we must begin with God and a clear understanding of true reality.  The metaphysics of a Christian worldview is founded on the life giving triune God of Creation.  Genesis describes the Holy Spirit as “breath”, and thereafter our understanding of life is inextricably linked to breath (Gen 1:2).  This breath moved in the body of a humble girl and from God and mankind we received the Word (John 1:1).  Christ was the fullness of God in human form and our example of human life lived in complete harmony with God’s design.  To understand Christ is to understand the fullness of the imago Dei.

Like metaphysics, epistemology is foundational to our quest for sanctification.  The value of life and its accompanying tenets of truth is wholly predicated the goodness of fit between man’s heart and God’s design.  The humanistic devotion to reason may be joined by sophisticated methodology and theory, but it is also critically flawed by sin.  Man’s reasoning, however noble is short of God’s (Isa 55:8) and no altruistic intent can reach a self-achieved and sustained righteousness (Isa 64:6).

The catalysts of suicide may vary but the common thread is the sense that life no longer has value. Absent the understood mandate of animating the gift of God’s image to the betterment of mankind, it is impossible to put suffering in context.  When the disciples questioned Jesus about why a man was born blind Jesus deftly turned the conversation to God saying “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:3-4).  Our proper context of epistemology is that knowledge is itself informed by action which brings glory to God.  Suicide is therefore precluded in absolute.

Biblical Examples

Since Augustine, the church has consistently held suicide to be equivalent to murder.  The Bible itself does not specifically forbid (nor comment) on suicide, but much may be learned from relevant citations.  The Old Testament addresses six cases of suicide and the only suicide in the New Testament is that of Judas.  While the brevity of this paper precludes an extensive exegesis of each, certain contextual conclusions may accurately be drawn.  A superior understanding comes from other circumstances where suicide was considered but either averted or rejected, specifically the Apostle Paul as noted below.

Suicide Committed

In the Old Testament, suicide was committed by Abimelech (Judg 9:54), Saul and his armor bearer (1 Sam 31:4–5), Ahithophel (2 Sam 17:23), Zimri (1 Kgs 16:18) and Sampson (Judg 16:29–30).  David Jones holds the latter case an exception as divinely approved suicide, but the logic is implicit and in no case does Scripture praise the act explicitly as either holy or acceptable.  The Bible presents each death as an act of self rather than that of a martyr who died at another’s hand for the sake of the Kingdom.  Only the suicide of Judas is mentioned in the New Testament and far from being treated as an act of vindication, Jesus said it would have been better if he had never been born (Matt 26:24).  In contrast, both Judas and Peter betrayed Jesus and each felt remorse, but only Peter reconciled his transgression with Jesus who affirmed that Peter had truly given his life to be lived for the glory of God (John 21:18) while Judas’ self-absorbed remorse led to his self-absorbed death.

Suicide Considered

The most compelling perspective of suicide in context comes from the Apostle Paul.  In his letter to the Philippians, Paul acknowledged a desire to leave this world with its troubles.  In a verse frequently quoted, Paul said “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21) and he provided an additional remark in the following verse that “I do not know which to choose” (Phil 1:22).  The Apostle was in constant peril and was, at the time of this writing imprisoned in Rome.  Acknowledging his dire predicament, Paul presented Scripture’s most compelling argument against suicide.  He wrote that it would be individually better (selfishly) for him to die and be with the Lord, but the greater good would be served by his continued life in service to others for Christ’s sake (Phil 1:24).

Whether Paul was actually considering suicide or employing a rhetorical literary device, his point is clear.  Rather than kill himself as a sacrifice to himself, he presented his body as a living sacrifice to the Lord (Rom 12:1).  As Thomas Aquinas wrote in Summa Theologica, “Therefore to bring death upon oneself in order to escape the other afflictions of this life is to adopt a greater evil in order to avoid a lesser.”  Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God will all of our being (Matt 22:37) and suicide is the ultimate and complete abdication of that cardinal accountability.

Suicide breaks the greatest commandment and it also breaks the second.  Jesus said we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:39) and suicide fails in both regards.  Beyond the fact that suicide is not loving oneself (Eph 5:29) it also deprives God of a servant to the world.  As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “your bodies are not your own, you were bought with a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Cor 6:20).  Nancy Pearcey introduced an interesting aspect of our interrelationship to our neighbor by linking the Trinity to the imago Dei that is woven into our collective human race.  As Pearcey has it, the collectivism and individualism which exists as a mystery of the Godhead is also present in mankind.  She says “the Trinity implies that relationships are not created by sheer choice but are built into the very essence of human nature.”  The act of suicide breaks the second greatest commandment more profoundly than can ever be fully understood in our life on earth.

Medical Ethical Considerations

Theologically, the establishment of suicide as a sin is relatively easy given its absolute negative juxtaposition to the living image of God which is the fabric of mankind, but advancements in medical science have challenged suicide’s definition.  Examining circumstantial gradation, at a minimum presses consideration beyond the oversimplification of Kant’s Categorical Imperative.  As Mark Coppenger pointed out, the Achilles’ heel of the Categorical Imperative is that it cannot stand alone.  Christian ethicists including John Kilner and Scott Rae have written extensively on the ethics of end-of-life decisions which must be made by loved ones and the medical community which effectively operationalize an individual’s wishes regarding the medical maintenance of life under terminal circumstances.

The relatively immature field of Christian bioethics seeks to provide pragmatic Scriptural guidance in an increasingly nuanced environment.  Euthanasia, or “mercy killing” is of course not new.  The Christian’s new dilemma has emerged from heroic and scientific life extension capacities which were unavailable even a generation ago. Simply put, absent these measures, life would end.  While one is tempted to parse overt death inducing measures like euthanasia or physician assisted suicide from passive measures like withholding treatment, as Rae points out, there is no morally relevant difference between killing and allowing to die.  The dilemma has drawn no clear consensus, even from conservative Christian leaders.  While Kilner holds any form of suicide or assisted suicide as “unthinkable”, Rae writes that “the sanctity-of-life principle does not require that every patient receive indefinitely the most aggressive treatment available.”


Suicide is a sin.  Like every sin, its commission affects many beyond the sinner.  An individual considering suicide might conclude they are acting alone under rightful control of their own person, and a humanistic worldview would agree.  Unfortunately, the same worldview is pervasive in the City of Man which Augustine described, and each of its foundational tenets stand as an affront to God.  Ironically, the humanist worldview might seem conducive to a strong sense of self-esteem given its egocentric construct, but as Albert Mohler points out, the current generation of children raised by its precepts in education and parental guidance are increasingly less capable of coping with psychological stress.  Mohler, the leader of an educational institution observes that college administrators are seeing increased problems including “binge drinking, self-mutilation, and even suicide.”  Empirical evidence is difficult to obtain, but evidence nonetheless abounds.  In his book The Real Las Vegas: Life Beyond the Strip, David Littlejohn writes that the fruit of an unfettered lifestyle of self-indulgence is reflected in Nevada’s grim statistics including the highest incidence of cirrhosis of the liver, the highest rate of abortion and teen pregnancies and a suicide rate which is double the national average.

In his book Suicide, sociologist Emile Durkheim argued that the chief factor in suicide causation was a personal disconnection to society which he termed “anomie”.  According to Durkheim, an individual’s enriched participation in society was key to mitigating an increased isolation conducive to suicide.  While Durkheim’s work has contributed to our collective understanding of the power of extended communities of care, it overlooks the greatest factor of human life stability which is none less than the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  Regardless of extenuating factors, real hopes begins with an understanding that that root of the horrific problem lies in the spiritual realm where mankind faces an adversary, who as Peter has it is “seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet 5:8).  The answer can only be truly understood to be the Holy Spirit who is greater (1 John 4:4).  Destroying the body annihilates the temple from which the Holy Spirit may empower the individual through any dire circumstances.

An average of 33,000 suicides occur each year in the United States, making suicide among the top five causes of death.  This paper has focused on the sinful nature of suicide, but unlike other sins, suicide affords no opportunity for repentance and restoration.  It is therefore imperative that the church take an active role in understanding and preventing suicide rather than only teaching theology.  Studies of suicide survivors have shown that while no single factor leads to self-inflicted death, the complex causes can be better understood and mitigated by an extended community of care in which the church is ideally positioned.  Christian counseling is most effective when the client has a foundational positive affiliation with the church which existed prior to their crisis.  Clearly it is the church’s responsibility to provide spiritual and emotional triage but all tactical help pales in comparison to the benefits of an individual’s participation in active church family life.

Death is the inevitable conclusion of the human body.  For the Christian, this is not to be feared but rather gladly anticipated knowing to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8).  Until we die, we are God’s servants, living for His glory, waking every morning knowing we are still on the earth for a reason.  This reason for our existence answers the quest for meaning and the answer may only be found in repentance, the relinquishment of self-worship, and the joy of living under the Lordship of Christ to the glory of God.

The Christian worldview is the theological grid through which every decision of life and death must pass.  The only proper perspective is through the eyes of God who created us in His image and has acted in unspeakable sacrifice to redeem us back to Himself.  Life and death has always been set as a choice before us (Deut 30:15) and it is God’s desire that we should choose life.


Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. 2nd ed. Viewforth Great Books Series, 2. Los Angeles, CA: Viewforth Press, 2012.

    Augustine. The City of God. Writings of Saint Augustine,, 6, 7, 8. New York,: Fathers of the Church, inc., 1950.
    Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays. 1st American ed. New York,: Knopf, 1955.
    Coppenger, Mark T. Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians : Pushing Back against Cultural and Religious Critics. B&H Studies in Christian Ethics. Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2011.
    Durkheim, Emile. Suicide, a Study in Sociology. Glencoe, Ill.,: Free Press, 1951.
    Freedman, David Noel. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. 6 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
    Jones, David W., and Daniel R. Heimbach. An Introduction to Biblical Ethics. B & H Studies in Biblical Ethics. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2013.
    Kilner, John Frederic. Why the Church Needs Bioethics : A Guide to Wise Engagement with Life’s Challenges. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011.
    Kilner, John Frederic, C. Christopher Hook, and Diane B. Uustal. Cutting-Edge Bioethics : A Christian Exploration of Technologies and Trends. A Horizon in Bioethics Series Book. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002.
    Knight, George R. Philosophy & Education : An Introduction in Christian Perspective. 4th ed. Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2006.
    Littlejohn, David. The Real Las Vegas : Life Beyond the Strip. Oxford ; New York: Oxford Unviersity Press, 1999.
    Melick, Richard R. Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. The New American Commentary, 32. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1991.
    Mohler, R. Albert. Culture Shift : Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah Books, 2008.
    Oden, Thomas C. Pastoral Counsel. Classical Pastoral Care Series, 3. New York: Crossroad, 1989.
    Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth : Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Study guide ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2005.
    Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices : An Introduction to Ethics. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2009.
    United States. Congress. House. Committee on Armed Services. Subcommittee on Military Personnel. The Current Status of Suicide Prevention Programs in the Military : Hearing before the Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, One Hundred Twelfth Congress, First Session, Hearing Held September 9, 2011. Washington: U.S. G.P.O, 2012.


To Time’s Analysis



Emily Dickinson

The Lilac is an ancient Shrub
But ancienter than that
The Firmamental Lilac
Opon the Hill Tonight—
The Sun subsiding on his Course
Bequeathes this final plant
To Contemplation—not to Touch—
The Flower of Occident.
Of one Corolla is the West—
The Calyx is the Earth—
The Capsule’s burnished Seeds the Stars—
The Scientist of Faith
His research has but just begun—
Above his Synthesis
The Flora unimpeachable
To Time’s Analysis—
“Eye hath not seen” may possibly
Be current with the Blind
But let not Revelation
By Theses be detained—

(poem 1241)

1 Corinthians 2:9–10

But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.

We all want a rich life. We also know the futility of trying to create it with things that don’t last. The stack of books on my desk tells me we aren’t the first to feel this way, from the nihilistic skepticism which figures so strongly in the novels of writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose The Great Gatsby chronicles a sad cycle of adultery, suicide and murder amid the supposedly lighthearted atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties to Ernest Hemingway’s failed romances and alcoholic anti-hero which usually end up in something like the atmosphere of his ironically titled short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” There the young waiters counsel suicide and old waiters mockingly pray, “our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name,” or “Hail nothing, full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury alludes to and is fully developed around the imagery of Macbeth’s despairing, dying proclamation that life itself “is a tale / told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing.”

In  refreshing contrast, Emily Dickinson’s poem 1241, references 1 Corinthians 2:9, one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible which says

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

In her poem (popularly titled The Lilac Is An Ancient Scrub) she takes an exception to this verse, suggesting that it “may possibly / Be current with the Blind,” but those who are capable of seeing a sunset might have experienced a glimpse of heaven.

When we brush up against God, we know it.

True enough, because Paul continues in verse 10, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.”

We are able to imagine, to see in images, what God has prepared for us because of the work of the Spirit. “Let not Revelation / By Theses be detained,” the poem concludes, referring both to Paul’s account of revelation of the Spirit as well as the Book of Revelation, which uses vivid images to describe the heaven that is to come.


The God of creation is still speaking.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


D I G  D E E P E R

Lilacs in the Sun and  Lilacs, Grey Weather

Claude Monet

Claude Monet
Claude Monet

Claude Monet painted these two canvases in the garden of his first home in Argenteuil, near Paris, in spring 1872.

Characters are seated under a bush of lilacs in bloom. One of the two paintings is done when the sky is overcast, the other one when the sun shines. For the first time, Monet put his easel on the same spot to study changes in the light. His intention is made clear by the titles he chose.

According to Sylvie Patin, Chief Curator of musee d’Orsay in Paris, where Lilacs,Grey Weather can be seen, these two works can be considered as the first step in direction of the series, a method Monet would apply systematically ten years later.

~Arlette Cauderlier

Emily Dickinson

41DF6PQbFNL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Like many of us, Emily Dickinson loved sunsets, “the Firmamental Lilac.” I live a few blocks away from Sunset Park, a narrow strip of grass and flowers perched on a hill above Puget Sound looking out toward the Olympic Mountains in the west. When the sun sets, especially during the summer, the park is full of neighbors who silently watch as the huge glowing orb steadily slips behind the mountains or sinks into the sea (depending on the sun’s position in the horizon). While the Psalms are full of appreciation for the presence of God in huge thunderstorms, I find sunsets one of the places where I am especially attuned to the goodness of God’s creation.

This poem has a deceptive opening, initially appearing to be another one of Dickinson’s flower poems. The syntactically simple first line is straightforward and blunt. The first thing about a lilac that comes to my mind is its sweet fragrance, but the poet singles out its age; it is “an ancient Shrub.” Dickinson’s garden at the Homestead had several lilac bushes, and their ancient quality is evidenced in the fact that some of these shrubs still bloom today, as you can see (and smell) if you visit Amherst in May. The “turn” that appears in so many of Dickinson’s poems shows up already in the second line of what, for Dickinson, is a long poem: “But ancienter than that / The Firmamental Lilac.” Firmament is a grand-old, King-James-Bible, literary word for sky that permeates the Genesis 1 creation story. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” and separated light from darkness. “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.… And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day” (Gen 1:1, 5–8). Sunset, the lilac of the sky, is as ancient as the second day of creation.

But the poem describes the sunset we are witnessing this evening, “The Sun subsiding on his Course” over a nearby hill, which “Bequeathes this final plant.” The day is dying, and the expiring sun leaves as a last inheritance “The Flower of Occident,” the flower of the west. Unlike the ancient shrub of the opening line, however, this plant cannot be physically grasped, or touched. It is left us for “Contemplation.” The stanza breaks here, and the meditation follows in the second stanza.

That meditation opens with an unpacking or explicating of the controlling metaphor of the first stanza: lilac = sunset. Precise botanical terms are used: the corolla is the collective term for the petals of a flower that form a ring around the reproductive organs and are surrounded by an outer ring of sepals; the calyx is the group of sepals, usually green, around the outside of a flower that protects the flower bud; and the capsule is the fruit containing seeds that are released when the flower is mature. Think about a dandelion: its gold petals, green sepals, and mature feathery seeds that are carried away by the wind. Similarly, as a lilac’s flowers fade they develop into brown seed pods. In the sunset, the pinks and lavenders of the western sky are the petals, the green earth the calyx, and the glowing evening stars that gradually emerge are the burnished (shimmering) seeds, as the dying sun gives birth to other distant suns.

This explication uses technical scientific terms, which Dickinson knew from her study of botany at Amherst Academy and employed in constructing her herbarium, and she now mockingly terms herself a “Scientist of Faith,” who conducts “research” and performs the technical activities of “Synthesis” and “Analysis.” Such an approach is limited, however. The research “has but just begun,” and the “Flora” (another scientific term) is “unimpeachable,” impossible to discredit or challenge, so good that it is beyond reproach. Neither unpacking the metaphor nor scientifically explaining flowers/sunsets capture the full glorious reality, which can only be perceived for oneself. Twenty poems about sunsets do not even begin to approach the beauty of a single living sunset.

Line 17 quotes 1 Cor 2:9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The poet takes exception to this verse, suggesting that it “may possibly / Be current with the Blind,” but those who are capable of seeing a sunset might have experienced a glimpse of heaven. Indeed, Paul continues in verse 10, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” We are able to imagine, to see in images, what God has prepared for us because of the work of the Spirit. “Let not Revelation / By Theses be detained,” the poem concludes, referring both to Paul’s account of revelation of the Spirit as well as the Book of Revelation, which uses vivid images to describe the heaven that is to come. Theses, argumentative propositions associated with analysis and synthesis, ought not to detain the magnificent revelation of God granted to us through a sunset. If we open our eyes of faith, with the help of the Spirit, we will see God.


Susan VanZanten, Mending a Tattered Faith: Devotions with Dickinson, ed. Clayton J. Schmit and J. Frederick Davison, Art for Faith’s Sake (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 71–72

Light Changes Everything

Ernest Hemingway

If I walked down by different streets to the Jardin du Luxembourg in the afternoon I could walk through the gardens and then go to the Musée du Luxembourg where the great paintings were that have now mostly been transferred to the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume. I went there nearly every day for the Cézannes and to see the Manets and the Monets and the other Impressionists that I had first come to know about in the Art Institute at Chicago. I was learning something from the painting of Cézanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone.

RickIt’s impossible to overstate the power of light. Claude Monet understood how subtle variances could affect color and texture and he returned again and again to paint exact landscapes changed only by cloud conditions, seasonality or time of day. His twenty-five canvas series known as Haystacks displays this tremendous power to affect perception.

Light has also been equated since antiquity as a metaphor of wisdom. A constant subject can be understood in wide range solely dependent on an individual’s depth of understanding. Where simple minds see circumstance, enlightened minds see eternity.

C.S. Lewis said “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Jesus is the light of the world.

IMG_0181John 8:12

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.


Dig Deeper

Art: Haystacks (series) by Claude Monet

Haystacks is a title of a series of impressionist paintings by Claude Monet. The primary subjects of all of the paintings in the series are stacks of hay in the field after the harvest season. The title refers primarily to a twenty-five canvas series (Wildenstein Index Number 1266-1290) begun in the end of summer of 1890 and continued through the following spring, using that year’s harvest. Some use a broader definition of the title to refer to other paintings by Monet with this same theme. The series is known for its thematic use of repetition to show differences in perception of light across various times of day, seasons, and types of weather. The subjects were painted in fields near Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny, France.

The series is among Monet’s most notable works. Although the largest collections of Monet’s work is held in Paris at the Musée d’Orsay and Musée Marmottan Monet, other notable Monet collections are in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,[1][2] the Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art in New York, and at the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo.[3] Six of the twenty-five haystacks pieces in this series are currently housed at the Art Institute of Chicago.[4][5][6][7] Other museums that hold parts of this series in their collection include: the Getty Center in Los Angeles,[8] the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut (which also has one of five from the earlier 1888-9 harvest),[9] the National Gallery of Scotland,[10] the Minneapolis Institute of Arts,[11] Kunsthaus Zürich, and the Shelburne Museum, Vermont.[12] Several private collections also hold Haystack paintings.

Literature & Liturgy: Light

Thomas Wolfe wrote in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who had been badgering him about his lack of economy and form: “Don’t forget, Scott, that a great writer is not only a leaver-outer but also a putter-inner, and that Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dostoevsky were great putter-inners—greater putter-inners, in fact, than taker-outers and will be remembered for what they put in—remembered, I venture to say, as long as Monsieur Flaubert will be remembered for what he left out.” (From The Crack-Up.)Wolfe himself was a mighty putter-inner. He could hardly let a character pass a hardware-store window without enumerating every tool in it; and the sights and sounds of afternoon in a familiar town set him into a sensuous frenzy: “Light came and went and came again, the great plume of the fountain pulsed and winds of April sheeted it across the Square in a rainbow gossamer of spray. The fire department horses drummed on the floors with wooden stomp, most casually, and with dry whiskings of their clean, coarse tails. The street cars ground into the Square from every portion of the compass and halted briefly like wound toys in their familiar quarter-hourly formula. A dray, hauled by a boneyard nag, rattled across the cobbles.… The courthouse bell boomed out its solemn warning of immediate three.…” (From The Hills Beyond.)

This is a passage worth study, particularly for its choice of strong and active verbs: “pulsed,” “sheeted,” “drummed,” “ground,” “rattled,” “boomed.” It is certainly not seven eighths below the surface, as Hemingway said icebergs are and stories should be. It is piled on, heaped until it runs over.

Differing from either method is the impressionism of such a writer as Anton Chekhov, who said, “You will get the full effect of a moonlight night if you write that on the mill-dam a little glowing star-point flashed from the neck of a broken bottle, and the round, black shadow of a dog, or a wolf, emerged and ran.” In that same impressionist manner, Stephen Crane carries the reader along with a fatally wounded soldier walking to some quiet place to die. The whole passage is like a prolonged silent scream, and it ends with a single staring phrase: “The red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer.”

Most potential writers are omnivorous readers, and in the nature of things an apprentice is sure to imitate. He has no other way to learn. Although he may try very hard to “develop a style of his own,” his real style will be a long time in developing and will parallel or reflect the development of his own mind and sensibility. The best way to find the style that naturally fits him is to follow Hemingway’s method and simply try to state purely whatever is before his eyes.


Hughes, M. Y. “Milton and the Symbol of Light.” Ten Perspectives on Milton (1965), 63-103; Miles, J. “From Good to Bright: A Note in Poetic History.” PMLA 60 (1945), 766-74; Major Adjectives in English Poetry from Wyatt to Auden (1946), 408-21; Von Simpson, O. The Gothic Cathedral (1956), 21-58, 91-141; Williams, G. W. Image and Symbol in the Sacred Poetry of Richard Crashaw (1963), chap. 4.

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).